“Mom once told me she sees a story in everything. A lopsided sand castle at high tide might look terrible but could have been built by a future architect. A small blob of jellyfish glistening in the sand might seem harmless but could be more dangerous than a vial of poison. A rainbow might be the brightest one you’ve ever seen but could be the result of a hurricane…” – The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street
I loved this book and the above passage sums up why. There is always more to a story than what we see on the surface. Any given circumstance could turn out to be the exact opposite of what it looks like. I feel that lesson resonates through these pages and drives home a great point about not judging circumstances or people by the way they initially appear.
In The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, we meet Tessa, a young girl who moves with her family from sunny Fort Meyers, Florida to chilly Chicago. She isn’t thrilled about the move. She had to leave her best friend behind, she has to start a new school where she doesn’t know anybody, she no longer has the beach as inspiration for her art, and to top it all off, her new house is haunted.
I found this to be a creative story with solid lessons about friendship and family. This book made me feel nostalgic for some of the spooky stories I enjoyed reading growing up, like R.L. Stine books. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if Ms. Currie is paying homage to Stine in her book with references like a spooky ventriloquist dummy (Slappy, anyone?). And Shady Street sounds awfully similar to Shadyside High, the spooky high school attended by the teenaged residents of Fear Street. Whether Currie intended any tribute to Stine’s work in this book or if they are purely coincidental, I found her story to be original yet with notes of nostalgia for scary stories gone by.
I also enjoyed a subtle reference to one of my favorite Disney attractions when Tessa refers to her new house as her own personal “haunted mansion.” I can only hope that this reference means Currie is also a grown-up Disney kid like myself. I also enjoyed the name of one of Tessa’s teachers, Ms. Geist. I, being the 90s teen that I was, immediately thought of the film Clueless. (Fellow 90s teens will get the reference!) But then I also thought of Geist being short for Poltergeist. What an appropriate name for a character in a ghost story! Regardless of why Currie named her character what she named her, it was a good choice.
I think the main and supporting characters in this book are relatable to young readers with just the right amount of family embarrassment, teen angst, and friendship woes interwoven to create a great group of young ghost-hunters. I also enjoyed the history in the book. Chicago is a beautiful city with a lot of history. The homes, buildings, and cemeteries are worth drawing attention to, and Currie does just that in this beautifully researched story. Chicago is also a city near and dear to my heart as my mom and her family are from there. (Go Blackhawks!)
Finally, I loved the ending to Tessa’s story. Without giving away any spoilers, I will just say that it reiterates the underlying theme of the book that things aren’t always as they seem and what seems bad at first might turn out to be something great.
Great job, Ms. Currie! Can’t wait for your next book!